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Labor senator Deborah O’Neill has done such a thorough job pursuing embattled consulting giant PwC over its present difficulties, that it appears she neglected to get briefed on Australian rules football’s tribal rivalries.
You make allowances for people from NSW, where they’re quite keen on rugby league, or something. But CBD nearly fell off its chair on Thursday afternoon as O’Neill, sitting on the Senate’s finance and public administration committee in Canberra, got into her long-awaited grilling of former PwC chief – and Carlton footy club president – Luke Sayers.
Luke Sayers copped a battering in front of a Senate committee.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen
The senator was most interested in who had a stake in Sayers’ current day job at Sayers Group – the consultancy he founded and still runs.
“Any of your colleagues from the … is it the Collingwood Football Club that you’re associated with?” O’Neill asked Sayers.
“I’ll try not to respond to that,” the man from the Navy Blues replied.
Deb O’Neill and Luke Sayers.Credit: John Shakespeare
“I don’t really follow the football,” O’Neill clarified.
Clearly not, if you’re going to get mixed up between the two outfits with, arguably, the biggest and longest-lasting rivalry in the code.
Interestingly enough, former finance minister Mathias Cormann – who is now secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – has an equity stake in the Sayers Group, it emerged in questioning.
But Sayers’ good mate, former treasurer Josh Frydenberg, does not. Intrigued, we sent off a bunch of questions to Cormann on Thursday, but it was past midnight in Paris, so we didn’t get any answers.
While the fallout from the PwC tax scandal has been hell for Sayers (not to mention his fellow management consultants, whose entire profession has been deservedly dragged through the mud), it’s been happier times for their corporate lawyer comrades.
That’s especially true for King & Wood Mallesons, the big-six firm brought in by PwC Australia to help with the clean-up job, interview personnel about the dissemination of confidential Treasury information, and conduct a privileged legal review.
Now, KWM have had plenty of work out of their embattled consultant pals.
According to answers to questions on notice provided by the Australian Tax Office to one of the many inquiries afoot, KWM were the primary external lawyers involved in discussions between PwC and the Tax Office relating to claims of legal professional privilege asserted by the consultants.
Big-six law firm King & Wood Mallesons was brought in by PwC Australia to help with the clean-up job.Credit: Ryan Stuart
Other responses from the Tax Office suggest that it had to navigate tens of thousands of legal professional privilege claims made by PwC during the period between 2016 and 2022.
It led to a running theme through this whole fiasco – claims that PwC weaponised legal professional privilege to keep the Tax Office away. In a matter separate to the tax leak issue, PwC reached a confidential settlement with the ATO over false legal professional privilege claims.
So was it appropriate for the firm that helped PwC use privilege claims to defeat the taxman really the right choice to help do the post-scandal review?
If so, PwC declined to comment.
Although in a statement of facts published along with its internal review last month, it claimed that it was “incorrectly suggested” that the firm used legal professional privilege to avoid discovery of confidentiality breaches.
That statement was based in part on the external legal work provided by … KWM. That firm, meanwhile, didn’t return our calls.
When CBD sent a speculator aloft late last month that outgoing premier Daniel Andrews might fetch up in his post-political life as Australia’s new consul-general in New York, we didn’t expect to see any action this soon.
But watch out for the chattering to go into overdrive after Andrews was spotted (by roving entertainment reporter Peter Ford) lobbing into the Big Apple’s JFK airport on Wednesday evening, local time.
We couldn’t contact the man himself, so it’s impossible to be sure what Andrews, who appeared to be flying solo, is doing over there.
Remember that a federal Labor source told us in September that the job of Australia’s consul-general in the city is Andrews’ “if he wants it”, despite the former premier’s protestations that he wasn’t interested in a public sector gig.
The trouble with that theory is that the job is not vacant.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong – whose office we called on Thursday morning – installed former AustralianSuper chair Heather Ridout (remember her?) less than 12 months ago. And it would be most un-Wong-like to punt Ridout at this early stage to accommodate Andrews, or anyone else.
CBD’s tipsters have linked Andrews with the job of New York rep for Global Victoria, the state government outfit tasked with spruiking our goods and services around the, um, globe. But that would make Treasurer Tim Pallas Andrews’ boss, and well-placed Labor government sources openly chortled at that notion.
Of course, the bloke might just be on holiday – exactly what we’d be doing in his position – or catching up with family.
Andrews’ daughter, Grace Andrews, is understood to be studying in the US. He might also be seeing friends, with good mate Anthony Pratt, billionaire boss of the Visy packaging empire, based in New York much of the time.
So many possibilities. And when we know more, you’ll know more.
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